Hearing loss is one of the biggest health concerns in the U.S. It is the third most commonly reported physical condition, following arthritis and heart disease. It affects roughly 20 percent of the American population and can strike people of all ages.
The most common causes of hearing loss are aging and noise exposure.
What Are the Symptoms of Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is a progressive condition that worsens over time. Symptoms appear so gradually, you may be completely unaware of your hearing loss for some time. Even when hearing loss is suspected, it takes an average of seven years for a person to seek treatment.
Knowing the signs of hearing loss is helpful in prompting you to take action sooner. Any of the following might indicate hearing loss:
- Frequently asking people to repeat themselves
- Feeling like others are mumbling
- Having difficulty following conversations when background noise is present
- Turning up the volume on the television or radio
- Avoiding social gatherings in noisy places
Often, a family member or friend will be the first to notice that you may have a hearing problem. Since treatment is most effective when begun early, if you think you might be suffering from diminished hearing, do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with an audiologist. The sooner, the better!
What Are the Types of Hearing Loss?
Conductive hearing loss occurs when there are problems in the outer ear, ear canal, eardrum or middle ear. Conductive hearing loss usually involves a reduction in sound level, or the volume of sounds. This type of hearing loss can often be medically or surgically corrected. Alternatively, it may be treated with hearing aids. Conductive hearing loss can be caused by any of the following:
- Ear infection
- Malformation or abnormalities of the outer or middle ear
- Impacted earwax
- Perforated eardrum
- Benign tumors
Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common kind of hearing loss and is treated by the use of hearing aids or cochlear implants. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. Sensorineural hearing loss is frequently referred to as “nerve hearing loss.” Typically, sensorineural hearing loss cannot be medically or surgically corrected. Sensorineural hearing loss may be caused by any of these:
- Aging (Presbycusis)
- Noise exposure
- Head trauma
- Malformation or abnormality of the inner ear
- Drugs that are toxic to the auditory system
- Genetic syndromes
- Problems at birth
Presbycusis- The most common type of sensorineural hearing loss is presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss. Diminished hearing is a common side effect of aging, usually coming on gradually and affecting high-pitched sounds most frequently. Presbycusis usually affects both ears equally. It occurs as a result of natural changes in the inner ear of an individual over time due to a variety of reasons including constant, cumulative daily noise exposure, hereditary factors, changes in the blood supply to the ear thanks to heart disease, high blood pressure, vascular conditions and circulatory problems, and side effects of some medications. An estimated one third of adults aged 65 or older experience age-related hearing loss; that number jumps to nearly 50 percent by the age of 75.
Noise exposure- Noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by exposure to a single loud sound, such as a gunshot or explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud noises over a period of time. When sounds exceed 85 decibels (dB) they are considered hazardous to your hearing health. Continuous exposure to high volume levels can cause permanent damage to the hair cells in your ears. Activities that put people at risk for noise-induced hearing loss include hunting/gun shooting hobbies, riding a motorcycle, working in a loud environment (factory or construction work), listening to music at high volumes, playing in a band and attending rock concerts. An estimated 15 percent of Americans aged 20 to 69 have hearing loss caused by noise exposure. This type of hearing loss can be prevented by wearing earplugs and hearing protective devices.
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. Treatment might involve a combination of medication, surgery and/or hearing aids.
Call Great Lakes ENT Specialists at (231) 489-8151 for more information or to schedule an appointment.